Sunday, 21 May 2017

Posts on this blog

Over the past six years, Dr. Willie Mc Loud (PhD in Physics, MA in philosophy, MBL, author of various books [1]) has posted a wide variety of essays regarding science, philosophy, religion, current events, eschatology and other topics on this blog. In these essays - written with the general reader in mind - he engages with all sorts of important questions regarding our human existence such as: Do we have good reasons to believe in God? and: Why should we trust the Christian narrative? Although the author is a committed Christian, his answers are not a repetition of traditional views and arguments. In fact, he presents new, relevant and sensible answers to the pressing issues of our day and age. A scientist-philosopher himself, he values the importance of good hermeneutics (interpretation) in answering questions regarding the Bible and science, history and so forth.

The blog is dedicated to all those skeptics who are willing to read with an open mind and carefully consider the various nuanced aspects of the issues at hand. When we really listen to each other, we may find true answers in real conversation. At the same time, the essays provide Christians with the tools, knowledge, and information needed to engage with unbelievers in everyday conversations about their faith. To facilitate the reader's access to these essays, the most important ones (all with links to the essays) are listed below according to the topic they belong to. Essays which are "highly recommended" are marked with an asterisk. Readers are welcome to use the information, share or forward the essays and make use of them as they see fit [2]. 


1. Science, Philosophy, and God

Part 3: Science and metaphysics: in search of Russell's teapot. (*)
            Presenting a new argument for the existence of God
Part 5. In defense of the soul

A critique of archaeology as a science
An archaeological perspective on the Bible
Presenting a new ancient Middle Eastern chronology
A critique of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline (*)
A hermeneutical perspective on the Bible (*)
Is the spirit world more than an idea?

2. Origins in the Book of Genesis


3. Eschatology



5. Discovering the Keystone, Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 years by Guillaume Brouillard (Griffel Media, Cape Town, 2009). 


6. Spiritual/geestelik

Meeting God
The Power of God
Wrong choices
Something or Someone is missing? (Dr. Francois Carr)
A message for the church
God hoor
Die profeet

7. Dialogistics/Apologetics

Towards a new dialogistic approach
Engaging with atheists and agnostics
Biblical inspiration: in a postmodern world
Faith and reason: finding the balance
The importance of the Septuagint in Biblical studies
Darwin's Doubt (book review)
The God Impulse (book review)

8. Current events

Brexit: What to expect
A New Iranian Empire is rising
The European Union: forever rising
Is a Third World War brewing?

[1] Books by Dr. Willie Mc Loud:
Akteurs in die Laaste Drama, 'n studie van Openbaring 13 en 17 (1989)
Alles omtrent die "New Age" (1990)
Op pad na Armageddon, 31 bepeinsings oor Openbaring en ander Bybelprofesieë (1995)
Alles omtrent die opkomende Antichristelike orde (2000)
Discovering the Keystone, Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 years (Griffel Media, 2009)
(with Guillaume Brouillard)
Die Arabiese Opstande (Griffel Media, 2011)
Op soek na Abraham en sy God (Griffel Media, 2012)
[2] Due recognition is required according to accepted copyright practice. Since all the essays include a reference to the author, they may be freely shared, distributed and circulated.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Jews: the people of God?

Israel has become a highly contested topic in recent years. For some, the Jews are the people to whom the divine promises belong which God had made thousands of years ago to the Biblical fathers – which include the land of Israel. For others Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its bombardment of Gaza are major injustices – why should the Palestinians who have been living in the land for centuries pay for the Jews’ religious views? Should Christians pick a side?

The declaration on 14 May 1948 of Israel as an independent state was one of the most important geopolitical events of the previous century. It had an enormous impact on the politics of the Middle East where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become one of the enduring realities of that ancient region. In time Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and the wars with its neighbors became a major bone of contention which affects many other nations.

Christians also have to make decisions: in general evangelical Christians support the Jews since they regard them as the descendants of the Biblical Israel to whom God’s promises to the patriarchal fathers belong whereas Palestinian Christians – who were once in a majority in some parts of Israel – cannot understand how Israel can be absolved by other Christians from the horrific way in which it treats them. Although their plight was brought to the attention of Christians by the likes of Brother Andrew who co-authored with Al Janssen the book Light Force, A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire (2004), many Christians could not understand how he could “take the side” of the Christian Arabs. Somehow, for many people, everything is to be taken either as “for or against” in this fight for influence and survival.

In this essay, I bring Israel as a nation into focus within the wider context of Christian thinking. I give a short overview of the Christian-Jewish relationship through the ages. I also engage with some of the important questions regarding Israel’s destiny, such as: Are the Biblical promises regarding the land still applicable to the Jews? Do they still have a part in God’s plan? What should Christians do in the face of the plight of Palestinian Christians? Should Christians give their unconditional support to Israel irrespective of their actions? There are no easy answers but seeing the wider context could help.

Christians and Jews

One of the first things that the early Church had to figure out was what the relationship of the Church, as the redeemed people of God, was to the Jews who was the descendants of the Biblical Israel, the chosen people of God in Old Testament times. Already in the Patristic era (100-500 AD) did the church fathers came to the general conclusion that God had rejected the people of Israel and that they had no further role in his divine plan. They believed that although the Jews had the expectation to be returned to their land when the Messiah comes, that this was a futile hope. Since God had rejected them, that would never happen. In the view of these church fathers, the prophetic promises of restoration had all been fulfilled with the return from Babylon. Jerusalem would never be rebuild.

The relationship between the Jews and the Church was, however, no simple matter. Ever since the Church became an established entity apart from the Jewish nation late in the first century AD, Christians and Jews held conflicting claims about Jesus as Messiah and how that determined their relationship with God. The assertion by both that they were the true people of God eventually led to open hostility between them. Whereas there are some very negative comments about Jesus in the Talmud, many Christians regarded the Jews as “killers of God” who brought misfortune over themselves in accordance with the words recorded in the Bible: “His blood shall be on us and our children” (Matt. 27:25). We find this view already in the fourth century AD in the writings of church fathers such as John Chrysostom.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Jews were regarded with suspicion. The early second millennium AD saw the first persecution of Jews by Christians in 1096 AD when Jewish communities along the Rhine were attacked and many massacred during the so-called “Rhineland massacres” in the period leading up the First Crusade. Jews were sometimes accused of ritual murder and were expelled from many countries – from England in 1290, France in 1394 and numerous areas in Germany, Italy and the Balkan peninsula between 1350 and 1450. Jewish communities were often subjected to severe discrimination – having to wear something such as a badge and live apart in ghettos – and there were many pogroms against Jews.

Some Jews, however, were traders and bankers who were able to overcome the obstacles that Jews, in general, had to deal with in their everyday lives. Since the nineteenth century, some of these Jews rose to high positions in politics and society in general, especially in the UK and US. There were even those who became remarkably influential – many would remember the Rothschild family in this regard, who is to this day a force in international finance. This, however, led in turn to accusations that “the Jews” were conspiring behind the scenes.

One of the important documents that is often mentioned in this regard is the so-called Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion which was first published in 1905 in Russia and in which a program to establish global domination is outlined. Related to this was accusations of Jewish involvement in the revolutionary movement of the early twentieth century in Europe, especially in the Russian revolution of 1917. One of the best-known works in this regard was Henry Ford’s The International Jew (1920), in which a series of articles which were first published in his journal The Dearborn Independent were reprinted. The story is told that the “Jewish media” published only pictures of Ford cars in accidents leading to the rumor that these were unreliable, which eventually forced the great magnate to reconcile with his enemies.

During the early twentieth century, Jewish-Christian relations saw two very different outcomes depending on the countries involved. On the one hand, the Jews gained some real influence within the Anglo-American world which was predominately Christian. Here one may mention the Balfour Declaration of 1917 when the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, handed a declaration in which Britain promised Palestine to the Jews to Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild, and leader of the Jewish community, to be presented to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland [1].

On the other hand, anti-Semitism increased and led to the Holocaust during Adolf Hitler’s rule when millions of Jews were murdered. In some way, the Holocaust represents the culmination of a very long tradition of anti-Semitism in Europe. Of particular importance in this regard was the role of pope Pius XII who’s actions with regard to the Holocaust is to this day a source of great controversy. Historians, in general, think that he was too cautious in his condemnation of Jewish deportations and Nazi crimes.

Image result for jews ghetto picture
Entrance to the Lodz ghetto during WWII
Both the Balfour declaration and the Holocaust played a central role in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The Anglo-American support for the Jewish people and the country of Israel, in particular, was one of the important foreign policies which characterized the twentieth century. At last the Jewish people had a homeland where they were safe from persecution. For many Christians, this was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy that Israel would one day be restored to their land.

God’s promises to Israel

After WWII there was a lot of goodwill towards Israel throughout the Christian world. At the same time, the fact that Israel was restored in their original homeland forced the Church to rethink Israel’s role in eschatology. It seemed that the theology according to which God rejected Israel after the crucifixion and replaced her with the Church in his plan (called “replacement theology”) was contradicted by the facts on the ground. The new reality went straight into the face of that assessment. It was time to rethink the well-established views about Israel.

The Church’s actions over the centuries also came under scrutiny. Some argued that the way in which the Church treated the Jews throughout the Middle Ages prepared the way for the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII’s tempered reaction during WWII reinforced the view that the Roman Catholic Church had a deep-seated prejudice against the Jews. This placed pressure on the Church to change its attitude towards the Jews and reevaluate her spiritual relationship with them.

In the US the evangelical Christian community supported the Jew’s return to their original homeland and in time became one of the most steadfast allies of Israel. These Christians rejected the replacement theology. Instead, they developed a dispensational eschatology according to which God still has a plan for Israel. They took St. Paul’s words serious that the covenants belong to Israel (Rom. 9:4), that they are still “beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Rom. 11:28) since the “calling of God is without repentance” (Rom. 11:29).

The same apostle also writes in the same passage: “[B]lindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the [era of the] Gentiles come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Rom. 11:25-27). This passage says that God still has a plan with Israel even though many of them have rejected Him as Messiah and that in the end of times they would come to salvation.

Christians who take Scripture as God’s Word serious have to acknowledge that God still has a plan with Israel – irrespective of how one reconcile it with one’s theology and eschatology. In this context, the events of May 1948 may be taken as confirmation that God is still keeping his side of the covenant with Abraham that He would give the land to his descendants as an eternal inheritance. The only problem was a practical one: large parts of the land were still in the hands of the Palestinians. These Christians, however, believe that God would eventually give the land to the Jews in the same way that He did so after the exodus.

Not everybody accepted this interpretation of Biblical prophecy. Some kept to replacement theology. Others had doubts if the Israeli’s were the true descendants of the Biblical Israel to whom the promises belong. This stems from the fact that the Jews intermarried with other nations during the long period of exile with the result that they do not share common physical traits. Some nations even converted to the Jewish faith without being of Semitic descent. 

The Khazars, for example, were a semi-nomadic Turkic people from the north Caucasian region who converted to Judaism during the eighth century AD. Some think that the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe were descended from the Khazars and were therefore not “true” Jews. In fact, although some of them may be of such descent, the most were descended from Jews who lived in those areas for centuries - even from the time before the conversion of the Khazars. Many Jews also fled eastward after the persecution in the western parts of Europe. As proselytes were always welcome in Israel since ancient times, the conversion of the Khazars should not be taken as an important issue regarding the identity of the Israeli’s [2].

Israel at the crossroads

When Israel became independent, the Western media was solid in its support for the Jewish cause. That has changed in recent years. Through the course of the last few decades criticism of Israel has increased. The handling of the Palestinians by the Israeli government has generated a lot of negative feeling. Even the large Christian community among the Palestinians had not been spared. Many have migrated to the West. Some even compare Israel’s rule over the West Bank with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The wars with Hamas in Gaza in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 and the many Palestinians killed in the bombardment have led to a lot of criticism of the Israeli government.

The result is that the pro-Israel sentiment of the post-WWII era has all but evaporated in a large part of the world. Whereas the Palestinians found it difficult to find a willing ear in the post-war period (even though some Arab states were close allies of the US) and the aftermath of the Holocaust gave the Jews a lot of sympathies, this had been slowly but steadily eroded over the last few decades. Today most EU countries have large pressure groups that support the Palestinian cause and most of those countries take a harder line towards the Israeli government.

Also, we live in an epoch where many people in the Western world (not to speak of the Arab world) do not believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. In the postmodern world, people do not take the divine promises made to Israel serious. They only see that Israel occupies the land where the Palestinians and their ancestors have been living for centuries. As such this has become a paradigmatic case of injustice – and not even the injustice of the Holocaust is nowadays taken as a reason to let Israel off the hook. As such it is not only the usual anti-Semites that find a sympathetic audience; fighting for Palestinian rights has become a just cause.

As is often the case in such situations, there are two sides to the story. Some Christians and Jews do not take these accusations against Israel serious. They feel that anyone under the same circumstances would have done the same – Israel has in fact been fighting a low-intensity war for many years against terrorists who do not mind to kill innocent people. The problem is that Israel’s actions are not only directed towards terrorists: innocent Arabs including Arab Christians have suffered a lot as is described very well in Brother Andrew’s book. Should evangelical Christians’ view about Israel blind them to the fate of their own brothers who live in extremely difficult circumstances?

Christians who support Israel have to ask themselves how they reconcile their love for Israel with the outcome of Jewish actions in that land? How should they reconcile the divine promises with the injustice done by the very people who they regard as the “people of God”? These are not easy questions to answer. It is easy to take the Palestinian side and reject Israel’s identity as God’s people. But is that the right way for Christians to go?

We find that God did not absolve Israel from her unjust actions even in Old Testament times. In fact, the prophets spoke out against injustice and warned Israel when they served other gods – but that did not change the fact that they were His People. In my view Christians should take a similar approach: They should not whitewash Israel’s actions but they should also not lose their faith in God’s eternal promises that He would eventually bring them to salvation.

I expect that the tide would turn more and more against Israel. According to Biblical prophecy, there would come a time when Israel would be hated by all nations. This may be one of the reasons why they would gather in the end times to make war against Israel as we read in the prophet Zechariah:

“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about… And in that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it… And it shall come to pass in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son” (Zec. 12:2, 3, 9, 10; see also Zec. 14).

When Jesus Christ returns with his Second Coming, Israel will indeed see the One that they have “pierced” when he was crucified. Then will they be reconciled with their Messiah. When we consider things in this light, we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6) rather than siding with her enemies. Let’s not be caught on the wrong side of history.

Conclusion

In this short essay, I discuss Israel’s identity as the people of God to whom the divine promises belong. St. Paul is clear that God still has a plan for his people. This includes the fulfillment of the promise made to the fathers that God would give the land to them as an eternal inheritance. Israel’s restoration in their land is therefore indeed of prophetic significance.

When we accept Israel’s prophetic destiny, it does not mean that we have to accept everything that they do as right. Israel has done some great injustices over the decades since 1948, especially against those Christians who are also God’s people. As Christians, we should, however, not take side with the enemies of Israel. Even when we criticize the things they do (and it serves no good to always absolve Israel from all wrongdoing!), we should do so with the right disposition. We should pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of all the people living in that beautiful land.

[1] “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
[2] There are also other views. “British Israelism”, for example, believes that the white people from the UK and US are descended from the ten “lost” tribes. They often regard themselves as the true heirs of Israel and view the Israeli’s as a mongrel race. There is, however, no evidence to support their claims regarding history. In fact, it is easy to show them wrong.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)

The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, and science.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The “ancient history” of Genesis 4-11: myth or history?

In this essay, I discuss the so-called “ancient history” in the beginning of the Book of Genesis – more specifically the post-garden stories. In general Biblical Criticism takes them as myth whereas traditional Biblical scholarship takes them as referring to real historical events. As before, I use the Sumerian hypothesis in my analysis of these stories. I show that the Biblical Adam, Enoch, the deluge, Nimrod and the confusion of languages correspond with similar stories in Sumer. What shall we make of this?

Our study of the Book of Genesis now brings us to the post-Garden of Eden stories. These are found in Genesis 4-11. Together with the garden story, these belong to the so-called "ancient history", that is, the prehistory to the Biblical patriarchal tradition. In this part of the Book of Genesis, we read how Cain murdered his brother Abel, how Enoch was taken to heaven as well as about the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages.

What should we think of these stories? Did they really happen? That depends on where they originated. Biblical Criticism assumes that the Book of Genesis was written relatively late in Israel's history – some even think that it was written during or after the Babylonian exile. In that case, the stories were merely taken from the Babylonian and other traditions. As such they were not part of Israel's own prehistory – they were taken from elsewhere and added before the patriarchal stories to give the (false) impression that Israel's history is as old as that of their enemies, the Babylonians. On the other hand there is the traditional view that these stories are part of the authentic prehistory of Israel. The question is: Who is correct?

Both these approaches have its problems. Biblical Scholarship – which I discuss in some detail elsewhere [1] – is saddled with modernist presuppositions from its formative years which grounded the paradigmatic commitments of the discipline. Modernist scholarship wrongly assumed that they had some objective vantage point from which to “scientifically” evaluate the traditions of “primitive” peoples such as the Israelites. As such these Biblical traditions were taken – on grounds that had been thoroughly discredited in recent years – as having no value whatsoever as sources about ancient history.

Whereas traditional scholarship rejected this approach, some others venture to the opposite pole, understanding the stories in a way that stands apart from the historical context to which they belong. This led to interpretations which are in constant need of direct divine intervention to explain the seemingly unrealistic nature of the stories, for example, the story about the confusion of languages through which God is said to have created all the languages of the world. Although I accept that God’s interaction with his people included various miraculous events, it seems to me superfluous to call upon miracles to explain things for which perfectly natural explanations may be available – often unconvincing interpretations necessitates miraculous explanations.

In all the essays in this series, I work from the Sumerian hypothesis [2], which states that these stories were brought by the Abrahamic family from their homeland in Sumer to the land Canaan. I give various reasons to support this view. The reason why they show agreement with similar stories in Babylonia is that both traditions go back to a very early epoch in Sumer.

Since both the Hebrew and the Babylonian traditions belong to a shared Sumerian heritage, the correspondences and differences are easily explainable. I argue not only that the Hebrew tradition is authentic; I also argue that these early stories go back to real events in ancient Sumer. I show how some of the stories, such as that about the confusion of languages, makes sense only when we understand the original Sumerian context.

Where did the Biblical stories originate?

When we want to examine the origin of the stories in the ancient history of the Book of Genesis, we have to carefully consider the literary style in which they are presented. We should ask where this same or a similar style is found in ancient literature – which would help us to place the Hebrew text within the appropriate epoch. We should also consider the ancient context in which these stories are said to have taken place to see if they are of historical significance.

The ancient history of Genesis 4-11 has a very distinct style which differs from that of the patriarchal history as well as the other historical narratives given in the Bible. As such there cannot be any doubt that this style is unique to this piece of Biblical literature. What distinguishes the ancient history is 1) genealogical lists of the earliest remembered forefathers, 2) particularly long lifetimes accorded to these people, some of whom are said to have lived for nearly a millennium, 3) short accounts of events related to some of these persons – some in-between the genealogies and others within the genealogies, 4) a Sumerian background for some of the stories (taking place in the land “Shinar”) [3].

Readers who are acquainted with the Sumerian King List would immediately recognize a close agreement with that text – in line with the reference to that land in the text itself. The Sumerians were a people who lived in ancient Mesopotamia from the sixth (some would say fourth) to the late third millennium BC. They established a remarkable civilization and ruled for many years over the land. The Sumerian King List was probably compiled during the reign of king Utuhegal of Uruk during the end of the third millennium BC although the oldest copies found so far date from the time of the Isin dynasty early in the second millennium BC [4].

The Sumerian King List was compiled from various king lists from earlier periods. Also included are the names of legendary kings mentioned in the epic tradition. As with Genesis 4-11, the list contains genealogies of early forefathers, some of whom also lived centuries-long lives as well as short comments about some of these figures. The difference between the texts is that the Hebrew text includes short stories between the different genealogical lists, whereas the Sumerian King List does not. This is, however, not too far removed from the Sumerian King List which also uses information from Sumerian stories (some of which correspond to the Biblical ones).

One may also compare the Hebrew tradition with the Amoritic king lists from the Old Babylonian Period (during the early second millennium BC). In this case, the king lists of the historical kings were also preceded by the names of their forefathers. The difference is, however, that these lists do not ascribe such long lifetimes to these forefathers as we find in the Sumerian King List and one also do not find the short commentaries typical of that list. So, although the ancient history in Genesis serves as the preamble to the patriarchal narratives (of Abraham etc,) in a similar way that the Amorites’ list their forefathers before the reigns of their kings, the correspondence with the Sumerian King List is much closer.

This clear correspondence between the ancient history in Genesis and the Sumerian King List forces us to consider two possibilities, namely that the Hebrew tradition which is recorded in the ancient history 1) was written during the epoch when that style was still in use, which would be some time during the early Old Babylonian Period (the time when Abraham is said to have lived), or 2) was written down many centuries after the Sumerian King List by an author who intentionally copied the style of that ancient document (which was not in use during the period of writing).

Let us first consider the first possibility. According to the Bible Abraham’s family originated from the city of Ur in Sumer. If we take this story serious as a true reflection of historical events [5], then this immediately explains why the Hebrew text has so much in common with the Sumerian King List, namely that it originated in the very milieu where that style was in use. All the stories in the ancient history (except the final one in Gen. 11) belong to the period before Abraham’s own lifetime – as such, they would be part of an older tradition which was delivered in the contemporary style within the context of Abraham’s family. The slight difference with the Sumerian King List, in that the genealogies are interrupted by short stories, would be a special feature of the Hebrew tradition.

What about the second option, namely that the author may have imitated the style of the Sumerian King List? In my view, this option has serious problems. Why would the author try to imitate a style that had been out of use for more than a thousand years? Why do we not find any information from Sumerian or Babylonian origin in this ancient history, including the story of creation (which also includes many Sumerian features – see part 1 of this series; the link is at the bottom of this essay), which belong to the post-Old Babylonian period as such! All the data in the ancient history in the Book of Genesis belongs to the Old Babylonian and older strata of tradition in Sumer. (This does not include the reference to the “Chaldeans” [6], which I consider as a typical addition made by a later editor.)

This absence of elements from the post-Old Babylonian tradition is especially obvious in the creation accounts which differ substantially from each other. This strongly suggests that the author wrote before the later developments in Babylonian thought took place (which include the idea that the champion of the gods created the universe from the body of the monster that he killed). Although one might find comparisons between the ancient history in the Book of Genesis and other later traditions on an ad hoc basis, this is not good hermeneutical practice. Although one can obviously not exclude the possibility that the Biblical author used such an ad hoc approach, any serious scholar should prefer an interpretation in which all aspects of the story are understood within one systematic and coherent manner - and this should explain the absence of post-Old Babylonian material in the Book of Genesis. 

On the trustworthiness of the ancient history in Genesis 4-11

We may now engage in more detail with the information in the ancient history of Genesis 4-11. Of special interest in this regard, is that the genealogies in the Book of Genesis incorporate data which seems to come from the Sumerian King List! Also, most of the stories find a direct equivalent in ancient Sumerian tradition. In fact, about all the main figures and events mentioned in the Hebrew text go back to such persons and events in ancient Sumerian tradition. I do not suggest that the Hebrews merely copied the Sumerian tradition. Rather, in my view, this suggests that this information belonged to a Semitic tradition handed down by the Abrahamic family – who is said to have originated in that land.

I now give a short summary of the information in the Hebrew text and then show how it agrees with the ancient Sumerian tradition (which includes an ancient Semitic tradition within Sumer itself).

a) The garden story of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:4-3:24)
b) The story of Cain and Abel (not found in the Sumerian tradition [7]) (Gen. 4:1-16)
c) The story of Enoch, who was taken alive to heaven (Gen. 5:18-24)
d) The story of the Great Flood (Gen. 6-9)
e) The story of Nimrod who ruled in Uruk and Babel (Gen. 10:8-12)
f) The story of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages (Gen. 11:1-9)

In the Sumerian tradition we have the following stories:

a) The story of Adapa – the earliest remembered person who brought civilization to the land
b) The story of Etana, who was taken on the back of an eagle to the abode of the supreme god
c) The story of the Great Flood
d) The story of Enmerkar who ruled in Uruk and Eridu
e) The story of the confusion of languages.

Although the Biblical stories have clear correspondences with those from ancient Sumer, there is no systematic account of events in the Sumerian tradition similar to that found in the Biblical tradition. We may, however, reconstruct Sumerian history in such a way that it is consistent with the Biblical account of events. This is quite remarkable because the Biblical author did not have a Sumerian outline to work from when he compiled his version of ancient events.

So, how did the Biblical author know how to arrange his history – placing the personages in the correct historical context? An obvious answer is that we have an authentic tradition that really goes back to the relevant period. It is difficult to see how a late author would have been able to do that! This implies that the ancient history in Genesis 4-11 should be taken in exactly the way that it is presented, namely as the prehistoric tradition of the people of Israel that was handed down from generation to generation through the ages.

In this essay, I discuss the stories of Enoch, Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. I show the correspondence with their Sumerian equivalents; I also show how they fit into a viable reconstruction of the history of ancient Sumer. I do not discuss the story of Adam-Adapa – I did that in part 1 of the series. I also do not discuss the story of the Great Flood. I leave that for the next part.

Enoch-Etana

The first story to be discussed is that of the Biblical Enoch. According to the Bible Enoch was the seventh descendant of Adam. He is said to have been a holy man who was taken alive to the abode of God. Over time there developed an important tradition in Hebrew circles about Enoch which resulted in some books being written under his name somewhere between the third and first centuries BC. He is also mentioned in a few places in the New Testament.

The Biblical Enoch corresponds with the Sumerian Etana. According to tradition, Etana was the very first person to become king (called “lugal”, i.e. a warrior-king) in ancient Sumer. In the Sumerian King List, Etana is mentioned as the king of Kish, a city in the northern part of Sumer. Of special interest to our discussion, is the fact that the rulers of Kish seem to have been Semites. This would be consistent with the Hebrew tradition in which Enoch is remembered as an early forefather of the Hebrews, who were Semites.

The name Etana means "he who went up to heaven/An". According to the story of Etana, he was taken to the abode of the supreme god An [8] on the back of an eagle. At first Etana got frightened by the height, but eventually, he seems to have reached that heavenly destination (our available cuneiform text is broken at this point). This agrees with the story that Enoch went to the abode of God. The eagle in the Sumerian story may depict the divine Spirit.

There are also some differences between Enoch and Etana. According to the Hebrew tradition, Enoch lived three generations before the deluge; in the Sumerian King List, the dynasty founded by Etana is placed lower down after the deluge. How would one explain this? Various Sumerian scholars have mentioned the problems regarding the King List – especially the fact that the order of the various king lists in the King List should not be taken as a chronological order since the author, who lived many centuries after the events, merely added them together without knowing how they should follow each other and where they overlap.

Insofar as the date of Etana is concerned, we may probe a little deeper. It is interesting that the first dynasty after the deluge is said to be that founded by Meskiagkasher, the forefather of the House of Uruk. He is said to have been both king and priest. The problem is that Etana was supposedly the very first king who ruled in the land. How do we reconcile these differences? I would suggest that Etana ruled before the deluge and Meskiagkasher thereafter, in line with the Biblical tradition about Enoch [9].

Nimrod-Enmerkar

The next person to be discussed is Nimrod. According to the Biblical tale, Nimrod was the son of Cush, the son of Ham, one of the sons of Noah who survived the deluge. That places him a few generations after the deluge. He is said to have become a mighty king – he was also a “mighty hunter”. His kingdom stretched from Babel and Erech (Uruk) in the south of Sumer to Akkad and Calneh (Nippur) and even to Nineveh, Rehoboth (Mosul), Resen (?) and Calah (later called Nimrod) in the north. He is typically associated with the events surrounding the Towel of Babel, not only since this city is mentioned as part of his kingdom, but also because his name may be interpreted as originating from the Hebrew word mârâd, which means “he rebelled” in accordance with the Biblical depiction of those events.

The Biblical Nimrod corresponds with the Sumerian Enmerkar. Enmerkar was a great king from the House of Uruk of whom various epic tales were told. He was one of the greatest legendary kings in the history of Sumer. The consonants in the first part of the name Enmerkar spells “nmr”, which may be vocalized as Nimrod. The last part of his name, “kar”, may be read as “hunter” [10]. The name Enmerkar may, therefore, be interpreted as Nimrod, the hunter.

According to his stories, his family originated from the land of Aratta [the Biblical Ararat [11]) in the northern Zagros mountains [12]. His father Meskiagkasher came from Aratta to establish himself in Sumer. This name may be shortened to Kash, which corresponds with that of Cush, the father of Enmerkar in the Biblical tradition. Enmerkar became a mighty king who conquered even the far-away land of Aratta to establish his rule over all of ancient Sumer and beyond. He is said to have built the city of Uruk in the area of the temple of An where his father originally settled. Various innovations are ascribed to him, among which is the first writing. He is also said to have brought the goddess Inana from Aratta to Sumer.

These things belong to the Uruk period in Sumerian history, which followed directly after the deluge, which left a 2.7-3.7 meter thick layer of mud which was found by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur. This is consistent with the Sumerian King List which places the rule of this family directly after the deluge. The Uruk period is the time during which the city of Uruk was built and when the first writing was developed which eventually led to the discovery of phonetic writing towards the end of that period. This is also what evidence for the goddess Inana's first attestation in Sumer suggest. Furthermore, towards the end of this period, the House of Uruk ruled over a very large geographic area to the north and west – this is usually called the period of the “Uruk expansion”. This is consistent with the literary tradition about Enmerkar. It is also consistent with the comments about Nimrod in the Bible.

There cannot be any doubt that there is a remarkable consistency between the Biblical tradition of Nimrod and the Sumerian tradition of Enmerkar – which refers to historical events during the Uruk period in Sumer. What is also interesting, is that some of the other names of the members of this family correspond with those in the Sumerian tradition. The Bible mentions a certain Raamah, meaning “Thunder”, as a brother of Nimrod. This corresponds with the Sumerian Lugalbanda, who was Enmerkar’s successor in the King List and who was identified with the “Thunderbird” (as part of the family of that bird) in one of the stories told about him. The Biblical Raamah had Sheba (“Seven”) and Dedan as sons. Sheba corresponds with the seven young men who is associated with Lugalbanda in one of his stories. Dedan may refer to Daos, a variant form of the name Dumuzi, the successor of Lugalbanda in the Ling List [13]. 

The correspondence between the Biblical and Sumerian traditions regarding the historical Nimrod-Enmerkar suggests that the Biblical source material did not only include information from oral tradition (probably handed down in the family context) but also from the literary tradition of ancient Sumer, including from the Sumerian King List itself. We may now suggest that the correspondences between the ancient history of Genesis 4-11 and the King List imply not only that the original author of this source material was aware of that list and used a similar literary style, but also that he took it as guide for his own history writing which included data from the King List itself. The period during which this is most likely to have happened is the Old Babylonian period (i.e. in the early second millennium BC) during which the Sumerian King List would have served as the model for such history writing. The Biblical author obviously reworked this material to produce the ancient history that we find in the Book of Genesis.

The Tower of Babel

This brings us to one of the most interesting stories in the Biblical tradition, namely that of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. The problem with the Biblical tradition is that the city of “Babel” was not on the map in the early period in which the Bible places this event, namely in the post-deluge period. So, how did the name Babel became associated with Nimrod and the story of the confusion of languages? The answer is actually quite simple: later authors such as the Babylonian priest Berossus (and the Biblical editor) referred to Eridu under the name Babel [14]. The reason is that both Eridu and Babylon was written as Nun.ki in cuneiform – resulting in this name being read as Babel in later times.

One can immediately see that Eridu is meant. The Bible mentions the cities under Nimrod’s control in Sumer as “Babel and Erech [Uruk]”, which would refer to Eridu and Uruk as two of the most important cities in southern Sumer during that period – not mentioning Eridu would be very strange indeed (when we take "Babel" as Eridu then the Biblical list of cities also proceed more naturally from the most southern ones to those in the north). In accordance with the Biblical story, Eridu was a very important religious center at that time where people from all over Sumer gathered to celebrate their festivals. It was known as the oldest sanctuary in Sumer and was rebuilt in the time of Enmerkar into a huge temple terrace (the typical ziggurat did not exist at that time) according to the literary tradition [15]. The building of the city of Uruk and the Eridu platform during the reign of Enmerkar is consistent with the Biblical story that the people built a city and a “tower” in Sumer in the time of the confusion of languages.

What about the confusion of languages. This is also part of the Sumerian tradition where it was called “Nudimmud’s [Enki’s] spell”. It is mentioned in one of the stories about Enmerkar which date from the late third millennium BC. The appearance of this "spell" in a story about Enmerkar is consistent with the association between Nimrod and the confusion of languages in Biblical tradition. We read: “(In) the (whole) compass of heaven and earth the people entrusted (to him) could address Enlil [son of An], verily, in but a single tongue… (The) lord of Eridu [Enki] enstrangled the tongues in their mouths as many as were put there. The tongues of men which was one” [16].

Where did this story originate? A simple explanation – which is maybe a too simplistic one – would be that the story was meant to describe how the various languages of the world came into being through one miraculous divine event. In the Biblical genealogy that precedes the story of the Tower of Babel, we read that languages came into being as humans became dispersed over the earth (Gen. 10:5, 31). This is indeed how different languages evolve. Since this stands in direct contrast with the explanation for the origin of languages given in the story of the Tower of Babel, we should ask ourselves if the typical interpretation of our story is correct? Maybe the original story was about something other than the origin of languages.
Image result for tower of babel picture
"Tower of Babel" by Lucas Van Valckenborch (1568)
In line with such an alternative reading we find that the Biblical author uses different words when he refers 1) to the tongues/languages (lâshôwn) that formed when humans became dispersed and 2) when he speaks about the confusion of language/speech (sâphâh). This may imply that two different things are referred to. Whereas the meaning of lâshôwn is obviously, sâphâh is not. The Hebrew word sâphâh literally means “lip” and refers to “speech” as the way in which we pronounce words. This way of pronunciation may refer to any particular way or convention in which words are pronounced.

In my view, the confusion of speech at the Tower of Babel – which I take as referring to the huge temple platform at Eridu – was not about the origin of different languages at all. It was about something different! There is an event at the end of the Uruk period that shows a remarkable agreement with the story of the confusion of speech. At that time it so happened that the Sumerians started reading their script in phonetic fashion. As such the convention of pronunciation changed.

Before the arrival of phonetic writing, the pictographic symbols of the Sumerians merely identified items in the context of accounting; now they were arranged in accordance with phonetic pronunciation. Before that time there was one unified convention for the pronunciation of the same symbols, namely that they had one meaning which referred to generally understood items of which the particular pronunciation was not important (they were pronounced differently by the various language speakers); the new convention of pronunciation involved combining such symbols in phonetic fashion in accordance with the way that we speak. Suddenly different language speakers – Semites and Sumerians respectively – read the combination of symbols in a totally different fashion which the others could not understand if they did not know that language. One can imagine that this would have led to enormous confusion.

We now find that the change to phonetic reading at the end of the Uruk period can explain the upheaval at that time. This is the time when the long continuous rule of the House of Uruk came to an end. The new rulers of Sumer were from the House of Kish in the north. At that time there was a “considerable displacement of peoples” with many people abandoning the land [17]. At Eridu, the large limestone terrace was left deserted overnight [18]. This is also the picture given in the Bible according to which the confusion led to the dispersion of the people of Sumer all over the world.

Conclusion

In this short essay, I discuss the "ancient history" of the Book of Genesis. I argue that this preamble to the patriarchal traditions was part of a very old Hebrew tradition that was handed down in the midst of the Abrahamic family since the time when they left Ur in Sumer to migrate to Canaan. This would explain the remarkable correspondence between this Biblical tradition and the Sumerian King List insofar as both were written in a very similar style and refer to the same historical persons and events. The Biblical tradition is consistent with the Sumerian tradition regarding events from the pre-Old Babylonian Period (all the relevant persons and events belong to an ancient Sumerian tradition from the time before the end of the third millennium BC). 

In fact, the Biblical tradition is consistent with a viable reconstruction of Sumerian history from the time before the deluge until after the Uruk Period (ca. sixth to early third millennia BC) – something that is not even found in Sumerian tradition where the ancient history of the land must be reconstructed from the textual sources and archaeological data. The obvious question is: How did the Biblical author know to order those stories about the persons and events? It does not make sense that the author wrote it down many centuries after these things happened. Rather, he merely recorded an ancient tradition handed down to him. I argue that we have good reason to think that we have a true tradition before us which refers to real historical events.

[2] The Sumerian hypothesis stands primarily in opposition to the Babylonian hypothesis. For more details on the Sumerian hypothesis, read: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis
I also criticize the Documentary hypothesis as a prime example of bad hermeneutics. See
A critique of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline 
Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective
I present a viable alternative to the Documentary hypothesis:
Who is Elohim?
[3] There are also other unique characteristics of the ancient history that I discussed elsewhere such as the use of the divine “us” (see part 7 of this series; at the bottom of this essay).
[4] Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1939. The Sumerian King List. Chicago: University of Chicago. p141.
Michalowski, Piotr. 1983. History as Charter. Some Observations on the Sumerian King List. Journal of the American Oriental Society 103(1):237-248.
[5] I previously showed that the important events included in the story of Abraham are consistent with the wider ancient Middle Eastern chronology when the Mesopotamian “high” chronology is used together with K. A. Kitchen’s “low” chronology for the Twelfth Dynasty in Egypt.
[6] The name Chaldeans refers to the Neo-Babylonians from the time of the Babylonian exile.
[7] Some Sumerologists have proposed that the Biblical story of Cain and Abel may be related to the Sumerian disputation between Enkimdu and Dumuzi. In both cases, the dispute is between an antediluvian farmer and shepherd. In my view the correspondence is not detailed enough to justify a shared tradition in the way that I am proposing.
[8] I previously argued that the Hebrew God was worshiped already in ancient Sumer, where he was called An by the Sumerians. The name An means “most high”, similar to the Hebrew El-Elyon (Most High God). In my view the names El and An are like God (in English) and Dieu (in French). In both cases this God was worshiped as the father of the gods. See part 7 of this series.
[9] The kings listed under the first dynasty of Kish actually includes three such lists, which mean that the last kings on the list were far removed in time from the first ones. The expression “XX became king”, which usually introduces a new dynasty in the Sumerian King List, is used tree times in this dynasty of Kish. This implies that three different lists are combined within the framework of the list that mentions Etana. The first of these consists of a list of Akkadian names (the language of the eastern Semites), which may refer to the ancestors of the kings of Kish. The second list commences with Etana, and would refer to the first dynasty of these kings. The third list commences with Enmebarragesi, who ruled towards the end of the Uruk period. In my reconstruction of events, the House of Uruk ruled during the Uruk period, which commences directly after the deluge. The only place where the first dynasty of Kish would fit in, would therefore be before the deluge.
[10] Rohl, David. 1998. Legend The Genesis of Civilization. London: Century. p215.
[11] The reasons for taking the Sumerian Aratta as the Biblical Ararat would be discussed in the next part of the series.
[12] Vanstiphout, Herman. 2003. Epics of Sumerian Kings. The Matter of Aratta. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. p67
[13] Jacobsen 1939:73
[14] Jacobsen 1939:60
[15] Vanstiphout 2003:59, 85
[16] Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1987. The Harps that once… Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven: Yale University. p290.
[17] Crawford, Harriet. 1991. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge: Cambridge University. p182.
Algaze, Guillermo. 1986. The Uruk World System. The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago. p16.
[18] Leick, Gwendolyn. 2001. Mesoptamia. The invention of the City. New York: Penguin. p17, 18.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:
Intro: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis
Part 7: Who is Elohim?

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